Book Review: Julian Maclaren-Ross Selected Letters edited by Paul Willetts

(Black Spring Press) £9.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

A cash advance large enough to allow him the time and comfort to complete a long novel, as these letters illustrate, remained Julian Maclaren-Ross’s perpetual quest throughout his professional writing career, which spanned the years 1938 to 1964 and is the period covered by this volume. An unswerving mainstay in a chaotic life coloured both by the heavy drinking and the amphetamine fuelled all-night writing sessions that became his daily routine from 1943, and an extraordinary peripateticism. His address changed at least once a year for 26 years as he fled unpaid rent, bills, or simply out stayed his welcome. Within this, the surprise is perhaps not that his quest was unrealised when he died in 1964, but that he managed to produce a body of work of such quality it won the plaudits of many literary admirers, including John Betjeman, Evelyn Waugh, and Anthony Powell.

Selected Letters presents a contradictory figure. An acute self-obsessive, who developed a passionate obsession with George Orwell’s widow, Sonia. A gregarious, compassionate man who equally lent so heavily and demandingly on friendships he took them to breaking point. A focussed writer, adept at inspiring publishers and editors, such as Rupert Hart Davies and John Lehmann, with his work and ideas, but equally adept at expecting them to act as bankers and intermediaries in his personal life before, with equally characteristic mood swings, alienating them with a barrage of letters cataloguing their injustices to him.

There are times in reading this book when one would like to literally throw it at him in exasperation at the spanner he repeatedly throws in the works; if one totted up the advances he received, one would undoubtedly find that he earnt the requisite amount to realise his quest many times over. But such a reaction, fuelled by the subjectivity of what might have been, misses the point that his talent and creativity lay in his chaos and contradictions, into which Selected Letters provides a fascinating personal insight.

Further watching and reading about Black Spring Press on the Plectrum Broadcast Player and in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:

Watch an interview with Robert Hastings owner of Black Spring Press and and a profile of the publishing house, featuring contributions from, amongst others, Alex Maclaren-Ross, Cathi Unsworth, and Nigel Jones discussing Julian Maclaren-Ross and Patrick Hamilton, on the Plectrum Broadcast Player:  www.theculturalpick.com

Black Spring Press and the Revival of Literary Reputations:  www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/blackspringpress/

Black Spring Press Film Nights at The Society Film Club: www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/blackspringpresspresentsweirdweekends/

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